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10-14-17

Combat Operations of the 155th Infantry Regiment in World War II

– Honoring the memory of local WWII Veterans


Compiled and submitted
By Wilburn Bell

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of a new series of articles that chronicle the South Pacific combat operations of the 155th Infantry of the 31st Infantry Division in World War II.


Independent Researcher Wilburn Bell has compiled a unique collection of information that honors these local men and their families. Bell’s own relatives, his Uncle Reid Bell and first cousin Wilmarth Strickland, were two of the men who served in the Live Oak National Guard unit that were transferred to Co. I, 155th Infantry during World War II.  
– More about the author at the end of this article.


– Part 5 –
Morotai Invasion Background and Planning


[Compiler’s Note: Compiler’s portion of the narrative is printed in italics, and bracketed items are additions or corrections by the compiler.]


Morotai is a Pacific island in the Moluccas Islands about forty miles long from north to south and about twenty miles wide.


At the time of its 1944 & 1945 service on Morotai Island in the Moluccas, the 3rd Battalion, 155th Infantry Regiment, of the 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division is believed to have contained at least 7 surviving members who had previously been pre World War II members of the Live Oak Florida National Guard unit, Company E, 124th Infantry. These survivors were James B. Barber, Thomas I. Dasher, Clifton W. Greene, Lester W. Kent, and Melvin L. McMullen (of Suwannee County), and Reid Bell and Wilmarth Strickland (of Lafayette County). Missing from this list was John W. Rogers Jr. (of Suwannee County), who, unfortunately, was mortally wounded in New Guinea and died 30 August 1944. Other former Live Oak National Guardsmen in the 155th Infantry included Theron R. Howard, John T. Owens, Jr., Glenn Smith, and James P. Williams.


In addition, William C. Durden, of Hamilton County, is believed to have served in the 167th Infantry, another regiment of the 31st Division.


The 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division provided the infantry assault troops for the TRADEWIND Assault Force’s invasion of Morotai Island in September of 1944. The 31st Division at that time included the reconstituted 124th Infantry, the 155th Infantry, and the 167th Infantry as well as artillery and other support troops. In addition, the 126th Infantry was attached to serve as the reserve for the 31st Division/TRADEWIND Task Force.


In summer of 1944, General Douglas MacArthur’s strategic planning schedule for retaking the Philippines called for his forces to advance from New Guinea’s Vogelkop Peninsula through about 650 miles of Japanese held sea and islands on the way to the Philippine objective of Mindanao. The plan called for an advance to the Halmahera and Morotai area by September 15 for the purpose of establishing land-based air support for the impending Mindanao operations. In large part, because of being more lightly defended by the Japanese, Morotai was chosen over Halmahera as the objective for the establishment of an airbase.


[The material below, giving a general overview of the invasion of the island of Morotai, is quoted from: United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, The Approach to the Philippines by Robert Ross Smith, a Center of Military History, U. S. Army, Washington, D.C., government publication originally printed in 1953 (CMH Pub. 5-8, Lib. of Cong. Cat. No. 53-60474) and reprinted in 1994 by the National Historical Society, pp. 460-61. (Hereinafter referenced: The Approach to the Philippines by Robert Ross Smith).]


“The Halmahera-Morotai area had not assumed much importance to the Japanese until early 1944, when they began to develop Halmahera as a focal point for the defense of the southern approaches to the Philippines. In addition to the 32d Division [Japanese Army], the Japanese had on Halmahera innumerable service organizations, and they completed or had under construction nine airfields on the island, most of them in northern Halmahera. On that island they concentrated nearly 30,000 men, including at least 11,000 combat troops. Morotai was neglected except for some work at Doroeba Plain. There the Japanese started an airstrip which they soon abandoned, apparently because of drainage problems.


On Morotai the Japanese had stationed about 500 men of the 2d Raiding Unit, which was commanded by Major Takenobu Kawashima. The officers were Japanese but most of the enlisted men were Formosans, and the unit was divided into four companies, the dispositions of which on 15 September [1944] are unknown. The Japanese had some grandiose schemes for counterattack from Halmahera in case Allied forces landed on Morotai, but by 15 September Morotai was isolated and there was no chance to reinforce it. Allied air power had destroyed Japanese air strength on Halmahera, brought to a stop ship movements to and from that island, and, after D Day [15 September 1944], with the aid of PT boats, should be able to prevent barge traffic between Halmahera and Morotai. The Japanese made no attempts to reinforce Morotai in the weeks immediately preceding 15 September and, possibly in the vain hope that the Allies might make a landing in northern Halmahera—an eventuality for which the Japanese were well prepared—apparently forgot Morotai.”


[Material below is quoted from: The Approach to the Philippines by Robert Ross Smith, pp. 475-77, ]


“The Tactical Logistical Plan for Morotai
Since little opposition was expected at Morotai and since it was extremely important to develop airfields on that island rapidly, the landings there were to take place close to the prospective airfield sites on the Doroeba Plain of southwest Morotai. General Krueger [Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, Commander of the U.S. Sixth Army] originally wanted landings to be made on both sides of the Gila Peninsula, jutting south into Morotai Strait from Doroeba Plain, but Admiral Barbey [Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey] was opposed to this plan. First, exposed waters and lack of good anchorages on the east side of the peninsula would make unloading difficult, and second, landings on both sides would interfere with naval gunfire support and endanger the troops pouring ashore. It was therefore decided that the first landings would be made on two beaches--White Beach on the west side of the Gila Peninsula and Red Beach on the mainland coast above the west head of the peninsula.”


[The plans called for the 155th Infantry to land on Red Beach.]
[In the two weeks leading up to D Day (15 September 1944) Allied air power had attacked Japanese air bases within reach of Morotai. Attacks were also executed on enemy air bases in the Morotai area on the morning of D Day. Also, hundreds of rounds of naval fire support were delivered on D Day morning prior to the 0830 landing.]


Next Time: D-Day Morning, 15 September 1944, on the Beaches of Morotai.


About the author – Independent Researcher Wilburn Bell was born in Lafayette County and received a B.A. in Education with high honors from UF in 1971, and a Master of Education from UF in 1972. After a 37-year teaching career, he retired in 2009. Bell has had a keen interest in genealogy, local history, and military history most of his life.  After serving a six-year enlistment with the Florida National Guard, he was honorably discharged from the 269th Eng. Co. in Live Oak, FL, in 1971 as an E-4.  Bell’s Uncle Reid Bell and his first cousin Wilmarth Strickland were two of the men who served in the Live Oak National Guard unit who were transferred to Co. I, 155th Infantry during World War II.  This series of articles chronicles the south Pacific combat operations of the 155th Infantry of the 31st Infantry Division in World War II.



Bell also compiled and edited "Sworn and Examined: Witnesses to Suwannee Valley Reconstruction Violence in Florida’s Third Judicial Circuit," a self-published compilation of Congressional Hearing testimony (available from www.amazon.com books).